Could Zynga have found its next hit game? When we noted on March 31st that the social gaming giant’s traffic had plateaued, it wasn’t clear how the company would get out of its rut. Two days later, Zynga released Treasure Isle, an island-based social game in which players hunt for buried treasure based on a time mechanic.
Treasure Isle’s starting growth spurt is reminiscent of FarmVille’s early days. With 3.2 million monthly active users, it’s already one of Zynga’s top ten games. Engagement from players is also strong; there had already been about 2.5 million unique users by about 4pm PST today, according to Jeremy Verba, Zynga’s general manager for the game.
Zynga obviously has a huge ability to promote new titles, with 63 million daily active users among its other Facebook games and a large advertising budget. But there’s more to hitting a home run than just promotion. The company’s other new game, Poker Blitz, has only picked up 1.2 million players in the three weeks it has been around.
Players logging into Treasure Isle for the first time will be able to pick out some of the growth influences. The gameplay revolves around methodically digging up patches of land on deserted islands to find treasure chests and money; in the short tutorial, you quickly find a set of “Crown Jewels”. It’s a bit like playing a slot machine, with “energy” substituting for coins. As in farming games, a looping music track encourages the repetition.
Addictive design is only half the puzzle, though. FarmVille came out at a time that interest in farming and nature was rising. Now there’s a similar trend, at least on Facebook, with islands. Games like Happy Island, Island Life, Island Paradise, and Tiki Resort have all successfully combined this theme with time management, and even Bubble Island, an action-oriented bubble blasting game, uses it to an extent.
The market for a treasure hunting game had also been proven. When we reviewed Treasure Isle, irate commenters pointed out that the game bears a strong resemblance to Treasure Madness, a pre-existing Facebook game that had around three million MAU. Zynga is indeed masterful at borrowing ideas — FarmVille, after all, followed on the success of Farm Town — but Verba says that Zynga also brewed in concepts and atmosphere from cultural successes like Lost and Indiana Jones, along with some original ideas.
Taken together, the above factors do make a hit game more likely. They also suggest a story for what’s happening with Poker Blitz, the other recent Zynga game. Unlike Treasure Isle, it doesn’t seem clear whether players were interested in a game like Poker Blitz, and the specific mechanics in that game are, as far as we know, fairly unique.
Zynga did have its success with Texas HoldEm Poker to guide its design choices, but the originality of Blitz also contained its risk. It’s also possible that Zynga is following a slow-growth strategy for the game, developing it further according to player preferences.
As for Treasure Isle, it looks like the game will continue its blazing growth streak for the time being. So far, it’s holding up to the crush of new traffic, unlike some other recent hits that have had trouble scaling. “We’ve been able to learn on the lessons of other games here,” says Verba. “Zynga’s an environment of perfect improvement, and an example of that is how this game came out, from an operational point of view.”